Thursday, May 6, 2010

habitat ~ 05/06/10 ~ Pinnacles National Monument - west

Pinnacles National Monument - west entrance
May 6, 2010

The picture above was taken on the Juniper Canyon Trail before the sunny switchbacks leading to the High Peaks. It's my favorite trail to see butterflies with a tiny creek trickling alongside. There are some open spots which feel like a "butterfly highway". This would make a great butterfly monitoring transect, like what Art Shapiro does.

During last year's visit on May 8, 2009, the most noticeable butterfly was the variable checkerspot; there were too many to even begin to count. This year I was amazed by how many Sara orangetips (Anthocharis sara) I saw. Unfortunately, I could never catch one resting long enough to take a decent picture. I also spotted at least a dozen CA forester moths, which given my difficulty in identifying the single individual I saw last year was a small thrill for me. It's too bad the day-flying moths are not included in the butterfly checklist at Pinnacles. Moths often get ignored and are only mentioned if they're "pests."

Pinnacles holds an annual butterfly count, which is probably lots of fun if you're into group nature activities.

I took the picture above thinking, oooh, that looks like a smaller version of Yosemite's Half-Dome. It's amazing how inadvertently consistent I am. We happened to hike Pinnacles within two days of last year, yet we don't actually go there very often. I took a picture from the exact spot as above, which is quite a feat considering the trail. The pictures are so similar that I opened up both files and checked the dates. It then became a game of can you spot the difference? The branch hanging in view on the upper right looks like it's grown about a foot, but that's it.

Here's the only place that I could tell any difference from last year at this time. This year the poppies are still going gangbusters and the grass hasn't dried out, yet. Plus there was hardly any Brewer's ragwort anywhere along the trail.

Pinnacles is absolutely incredible! For much better blog posts of Pinnacles spanning the past 2 months, check out Bread on Water and Town Mouse and Country Mouse.

One last pic! This was taken looking back toward Pinnacles at the 9 mile marker. One would never suspect such an incredible place existed behind those dry, yellow hills. It does get very hot there in the summer. Pinnacles National Monument is actually a bit difficult to find. To get to the west entrance, you have to first go through Soledad and carefully follow the tiny directional signs. On our way out, we like to stop at La Fuente for the best Mexican food around and chat with the lovely, friendly proprietor.

venus thistle ~ 05/06/10 ~ Pinnacles


This is my favorite thistle for it's scarlet color and tall stalk that makes it stand out against the dry, west facing slopes at Pinnacles.
armored darkling beetle
Eleodes armatus

Let's everyone stand on their heads! Okay, I give in, there's a link to above. It's surprisingly difficult to find online information of CA beetles. I added a link to the CA Beetle Project under recommended ID links. So, is it E. armatus or E. armata? I'm not absolutely positive this is an E. armatus, because its elytra were incredibly smooth without dimples. I need to start carrying around a little ruler to measure these suckers.

I was so proud of my photo and the different camera angle... until I found several hundred online just like it. Growing up in the Central Valley, I often poked and prodded a larger and less tapered-butt Eleodes. They're fun beetles. Touch them and they do a headstand for you. I am apparently fortunate enough to have never experienced the noxious spray of the stink beetle. Haha, I've actually poked many stink beetles hoping to witness this reported spray, but I've never seen it.

ps - I've been putting off posting additional pics of beetles until I got the Field Guide to Beetles of California. In all honesty, it's not what I had hoped it'd be for a field guide; it reads more like a textbook summary for people who're already familiar with the beetles in question. Yet, it's the best CA beetle book I've found, so I'm keeping it. Maybe with time I'll become more comfortable using it and will appreciate all the information. With so many beetles everywhere, I can see why there are so few ID books.
elegant clarkia
Clarkia unguiculata

This is a wild-looking flower if you look closely. Apparently, it's named after William Clark of the historical Lewis and Clark Expedition. Pinnacles is one of the few places I can reliably count on to see this flower around here.

Pacific gopher snake ~ 05/06/10 ~ Pinnacles

Pacific gopher snake
Pituophis catenifer catenifer

Why did the snake cross the road? Apparently, to find a mate! Or sometimes seem to just sit there in the middle of the road while an oncoming large object, i.e. a car, comes zooming at it? We saw this snake looking a bit flattened like it had melted slightly and zigzaggy (don't know how else to describe it). I got out of the car and touched its tail end simply to check if it was still alive. Sure enough it firmed up and started moving along. Fascinating!

Okay, considering the last time I touched the tail end of a snake, which may have been a baby rattlesnake, I still need to learn how to recognize local snakes. CA Herps posted what looks like an interpretive sign from SBMNH. I had to laugh because it tells you to look at the eyes and see if the pupils are rounded or vertical. Hello? I'm not sure I want to be close enough to a rattler to look lovingly into its eyes. But, what do I know, I need to stop pulling snake tales (pun intended). For a better interpretive sign, see EBRPD's.

ps - Truth in advertising, the first photo above was "enhanced" with iPhoto. I think I like this iMac.

pss 05/10/10 - Found this awesome local snake post from Dipper Ranch on how to tell the differences between snakes.

CA sister ~ 05/06/10 ~ Pinnacles

California sister perched on buck brush
Adelpha californica (formerly Adelpha bredowii) perched on Ceanothus cuneatus var. cuneatus

Didn't I say I hope my pictures will improve in a year? And, yes, I'm using the same ol' Konica Minolta DiMAGE X50. I'm just pausing a little longer and being patient.

I often get California sisters confused with Lorquin's admiral (Limenitis lorquini) from the top view and on the wing. The way I remember it now is "Lorquin's lacks the black" margin around the orange tips. From the underside, each is very different.

Notice it appears like there are only 4 legs? There really are 6, the front two are tucked in, which is typical of the Nymphalidae family, also known as brushfoots. What I don't understand is Glassberg, p.134 says the forelegs are reduced in males. Does this mean they are not reduced in females? I can't find anything online confirming this, but I do find it interesting that most pictures online are of males.

To see a fantastic picture of the California sister caterpillar, see Butterflies of America's site.

ps 07/02/11 - I should note that buck brush is not the host plant of CA sister. This butterfly's caterpillars reportedly eat oaks. As I watched the individual above, it seemed to be territorial of a particular open air space created by the nearby stream; it repeatedly perched on the same branch of buck brush, after chasing other butterflies.

ps - 06/01/13 - I've updated the butterfly name change and embedded links.

CA poppy ~ 05/06/10 ~ Pinnacles

California poppy
Eschscholzia californica

California poppies were so prolific near the parking lot and picnic areas that I suspect they were planted there, versus naturally growing wild.

ps 05/10/11 - For more information about CA poppies than you can shake a stick at, check out Curtis Clark's CSU Pomona poppy website.

Nature ID's one year anniversary

Wow. It's been a whole year since I began Nature ID. I'm very pleased with what I'm creating and how the experience has changed me.

Memory is such a shape-shifter. I set out with the goal to document the dates of my nature observations, because I couldn't remember if our local cormorants nested in February or May. Plus, I wanted to prod myself to look up answers to fleeting questions, instead of brushing them off after hikes like ticks. Pictures, even fuzzy ones, capture details I often can't recall properly... Was it five petals? Were there spots on the hindwing? Do I care? Now, I carry my camera with me on most outings and have collected more pictures of nondescript plants and blurry animal forms than is reasonably sane.

Sure there are moments when I think, "WTH am I doing?" Blogging is a time-consuming affair, just ask my husband!... Then I think about the benefits from doing this exercise. Most importantly, Nature ID has brought back my natural curiosity. I tend to get so caught up in what needs to be done, that I forget to ask simple questions or stop to appreciate it all. Now, I'm becoming more aware of what is around me and all those questions are now sticky enough to be asked out loud.

I am without a doubt the biggest visitor to Nature ID. I use my index and archive (disguised as hiking/observation dates) quite a bit as my own reference tool and am already comparing notes with last year, which I learned is called phenology. Also, I've collected a decent repertoire of reference links. I'd probably do just as well with a database or well-organized bookmarks; however, I like having a dedicated place to record my online searches attached to dated photographs and a method to easily solicit others to help with IDs. In the process, I have discovered a whole world of nature-loving bloggers with whom I feel a sense of camaraderie and awe... this is a big deal when so many people would rather squash that spider than take a picture of it.

The past couple of months I've been blogging and commenting more than usual, partly due to odd pockets of time between traveling, partly due to newly added blog lists in the sidebar which catch my attention, and now partly due to my spanking new iMac. If only I can figure out how to get iPhoto to recognize butterflies and plants. I have plans to add a map of locations and additional labels (even I have little patience to scroll through my own 57 entries of native flowers).

Since my IDentity crisis!, I reminded myself what my goals were when I set out on this journey. Eventually, I hope Nature ID from the Central Coast of California will live up to its name. I was starting to add too many extraneous posts, like this one for example, and wasn't staying true to my unique format of backdated entries and staying local. As a result, I've moved all my miscellaneous posts and comments to this 2nd blog Kt's Nature ID companion. It's random and rambling like a typical blog and will probably contain quite a few travel pics as I import and set-up iPhoto.

I created Nature ID for me... and am amazed other people seem to like it, too. Thanks for taking the time to visit. Here's to another year, cheers!

ps 09/16/10 - Once again, I'm reorganizing and so all those misc. post are now back on Nature ID.